Albert and his twin brother Karl-Heinz were born on May 10, 1927 in Berlin, the capital of Germany. As they were growing up, the twins were very close. During the day, they would play together in the Tiergarten, which was the main park in Berlin. And at night, they would end the day by telling each other their secrets. Albert and Karl-Heinz also had a sister, Dorrit, who was two years older, but the boys found her too serious for playing games. She played with her own girlfriends.
Their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Friedlander, provided a comfortable life for their children. Alex Friedlander, Albert’s father, sold fabrics to factories that made clothing. Salomé Friedlander, Albert’s mother, took responsibility for religious life in the Friedlander home. She came from a traditional family, but brought her children to a more liberal synagogue called the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue.
This Berlin congregation was guided by Rabbi Leo Baeck , one of the great leaders of German liberal Judaism . In contrast to his wife, Mr. Friedlander was quite uninterested in religion. He preferred to spend his weekends at his boat club, rather than attending services at the synagogue.
TESTIMONY: “RELIGION IN THE FRIEDLANDER HOME”
“… there was a total awareness of being Jewish.”
Albert and his brother went to the local elementary school starting in 1933. This was the same year that the Nazis came to power in Germany. There were only about half a dozen Jewish children at the school, and the twins were often taunted by their classmates and even some of their teachers for being Jewish. Some of the children would follow the twins on their way home from school and attack them. When Mrs. Friedlander noticed Albert’s bruises, he claimed that he fell down and injured himself, to prevent his mother from being alarmed.
The family tried to continue living a normal life despite the increasingly difficult situation. Albert started noticing signs going up around town in public places and shops that warned: “Jews and dogs prohibited.” Soon, Jews were excluded from certain professions, businesses, and schools. When the Nuremberg Laws were passed in 1935, Jews were no longer considered German citizens, even if their families had lived in Germany for centuries.
With the increasing persecution of Jews, Albert’s aunt, Judith, decided to leave Germany. She pretended to go on a visit to Switzerland, and invited Mrs. Friedlander to join her. Secretly, Aunt Judith and Mrs. Friedlander both carried bars of gold with them. The gold belonged to Aunt Judith. She had been a successful real-estate agent, and wanted to escape Germany with all that she had earned. After a brief visit in Switzerland together, Mrs. Friedlander came back to her family in Berlin, while Aunt Judith took her gold to Jerusalem and invested in an apartment where she believed she could settle down to live free from the Nazi threat.
For all those German Jews who were still in Germany, whether because they couldn’t or wouldn’t leave, a central Jewish organization called the Reichsvertretung represented them, advocated on their behalf, and provided social services. The organization, which was founded in 1933, was headed by Albert’s Rabbi , Rabbi Leo Baeck .
TESTIMONY: “BECOMING A SUPER JEW”
“I started thinking about my future and I decided I was going to be a Rabbi .”
In 1936, Albert and his brother began attending the Theodore Herzl School, a Jewish school named after the famous Zionist leader. Hebrew language classes and training for aliya , or emigration to Palestine, were included among the lessons at the school. Sending children to the Palestine was one way to get them out of Germany. Albert enjoyed going to a Jewish school. As he became more aware of what it meant to be Jewish, he also became more interested in the lectures of the Rabbi at synagogue and started to think about his future. He decided he wanted to be a Rabbi .